We are deeply attached to the body and its urges. Swami Adbhutanada, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “The mind craves the intoxication of worldly enjoyments.” We are engaged in a frenzy of constant activity to try and satisfy the mind’s longings.
The purpose of the various disciplines we undertake on Yom Kippur is to stop this constant activity, to break the link between thought and desire, and silence the craving mind.
On Yom Kippur, we build a vibration of holiness that clears our mind. We sanctify our heart through love and devotion. We clear away the noise and movement from the outer world and enter into the stillness within.
Once we have touched this place of silence, we are linked into the power of the Infinite. We become attuned to the Cosmic Rhythm. We become aligned to the energy of God’s Purpose and Will.
The revelation at Mount Sinai was a great outpouring of Divine Will. The Midrash tells us that with each Divine utterance, the souls of the Children of Israel left their bodies, and then were restored again with each pause. At Sinai, we were taken up into the living Presence of God. We responded to this awe-inspiring experience by proclaiming “Naaseh venishma” – we shall do and we shall obey. At Sinai, our only desire was to do the Will of God.
However, our vessel was not sufficiently prepared to receive the Divine Light. We were unable to remain in the rarified state of devekut – of adhering to God. When the supportive presence of Moses disappeared up the mountain, the people plummeted back into the slave consciousness they had in Egypt, and the resulting outcome was the Golden Calf.
After the episode of the Golden Calf, Moses ascended the mountain again to meet with God. There, the Lord told Moses that He intended to destroy the Children of Israel and start a new nation beginning with him. Moses, however, did not accept God’s proposal. He pleaded with the Lord to forgive Israel, until God relented and gave the people another chance.
This second chance is symbolized by the second luchot – the second Tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments. These tablets represent the Divine possibility of teshuvah, the promise that there is always a way back to God. Even if our whole life gets smashed to pieces, there is still a way for us to return to God. We may fail again and again, but God will never give up on us. God is “longsuffering and abundant in mercy”.
This is the unique power of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is an opportunity to realign ourselves. It is a chance to clear away the veils and see the true purpose of life. It is a chance to turn our hearts and mind toward heaven: to choose life, to choose love, to choose compassion.
In Temple times, the power of the Will of God came pouring through the High Priest to cleanse the people of their sins and give them a fresh start to the New Year. Today, we do not have a physical Temple. We have only the inner temple that is in our hearts.
At the center of our being there is a place where God dwells. On Yom Kippur, we put aside all of outer concerns and focus on this sacred space within. We still the thoughts and desires swirling round in our head and dive deep into the silence of our spiritual heart. In this way, we enter into the space of Pure Being, and become one with the consciousness of all that is.
In this timeless place, all separateness and duality have been obliterated: there is no good or evil, no right or wrong, no past or future. There is no one for our karma to hold on to, no one to whom our sins belong. There is nothing but God.
At Sinai, God descended to Israel upon the mountain. On Yom Kippur, we find God within ourselves. This personal revelation transforms our awareness. It changes the way in which we view the world and ourselves. Our mind stops hankering after the stimulation of the senses. We are no longer cast adrift; we have found our inner anchor. We have discovered the path that leads back home.
This profound inner awakening is the gift which Yom Kippur offers us. It is a Divine blessing which has been vouchsafed to us. Taanit 30B declares that there were no more joyous days in Israel than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur. On Tu B’Av, the young men went out into the fields to find their soul mates. On Yom Kippur, we seek union with our Supernal Beloved.
Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shabbaton – the Sabbath of Sabbaths. If Shabbat is the day of rest, then Yom Kippur is the day of total stillness, the day where we merge into the emptiness and stillness of the Absolute. This is the reason for the special prayers that end the fast.
We begin by chanting the first line of the Shema, which proclaims God’s oneness: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Then, we repeat the phrase “Blessed be the name of His Glorious Kingdom forever and ever”. With these words we assert our faith that the Divine Will and Power infuses all of the worlds. Finally, we conclude with the powerful declaration “Adonai Hu HaElohim” – the Lord Yud Heh Vav Heh is the one God. He/She is the force that underlies all of existence. He/She is all that IS. As Deut. 4:39 exclaims:
“Know this day, and take unto your heart, that the Lord is God; in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is nothing else.”
On Yom Kippur, we are touched by the Will of God. That touch enables us to become more than ourselves. It empowers us to work from the place of peace and stillness inside us. It illuminates us with God’s light, strength and love. It infuses us with the highest aspiration. It animates our New Year with the blessings of Divine life.
Copyright © 2013, by Yoel Glick